Getting charged with driving while impaired (“DWI/DUI”) in North Carolina is a serious enough matter on its own—you face potential temporary license revocation and suspension, and if convicted, an even longer suspension and probation or even jail time. As explained here, DWI sentencing requires the determination of aggravating and mitigating factors which will ultimately determine what sentencing “level” you are. This in turn will dictate what type of sentence you can receive. DWI charges and family law can intersect in a number of different ways. One extreme example is if you have a child under the age of 18 in the vehicle with you at the time of the alleged offense. Not only does having a minor in the car with you count as its own aggravating factor for the criminal side of things, thereby potentially exposing you to a more severe sentence—but doing so can also have disastrous effects on your child custody case.
Like many states, North Carolina uses the “best interests of the child” standard in determining how to award custody, be it temporary at the beginning of a separation or divorce, or more permanent. In analyzing this, the courts can look to factors such as the parents’ respective home lives and surrounding environments and any alcohol or drug abuse by a parent. It’s important to remember that because family law uses a much lower burden of proof than in criminal court, this means if you are just charged with a DWI, a family court judge can consider this as evidence against you in making a custody determination. Courts will generally consider driving arrests related to drug or alcohol use as indicative of reckless behavior and poor judgment.
The family law court will also weigh the full situation surrounding the DWI arrest or conviction—how long ago it was, how high your blood alcohol level was, if you have other indicators of drug or alcohol abuse and if there were minors in the vehicle at the time—whether those minors are the child(ren) involved in your custody case or not. It is incredibly important to have the immediate assistance of an experienced family law attorney as well as a skilled criminal law attorney to tackle these issues alongside each other and protect your rights.